Thursday, 26 July 2007

review: harry potter and the order of the phoenix (david yates, 2007)


Rankings Table for the Harry Potter films, to date


1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


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2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


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3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


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4. Harry Pottetr and the Chamber of Secrets

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Artistically, if not commercially, the cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling's excellent (despite their popularity) works have met with mixed success. While no film in the series is exactly bad, the first two in particular only capture the spirit of the novels intermittently. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Alfonso Cuaron's masterful third installment, which, to this viewer at least, is the only film so far to completely and rousingly live up to the source material - not to mention its being one of the greatest family blockbusters ever made. Cuaron's achievements did not stop at bringing to life the novels' sense of magical wonder in a way none of the other directors so far have managed, mostly through a child-like-wonder quality to the visuals - notable in the way details such as the changing of the seasons are foregrounded, moving the plot forward while adding invaluable colour. His masterstroke was in capturing the emotional quality of the books - the film's autumnal, overcast but luminous visuals mirroring Harry's increasingly dreadful awareness of his responsibilities. Cuaron understood Harry's increasing maturity, his first triumphant steps into adulthood and freedom shackled by his uncertainties, and his relationships with the paternal figures of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black (and the link to a lost past they represent), and it was his pitch-perfect rendition of these elements that made his film so successful.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix falls in between the two extremes. It never matches the greatness of Prisoner of Azkaban, but it comes a comfortable second, surpassing the Columbus films as well as Mike Newell's flawed and uneven, but enjoyable, Goblet of Fire. Director David Yates, aided by DoP Slawomir Idziak, belies his relative feature-film inexperience, giving the film a distinctive dark palette and visual style. Though he does not demonstrate the relentless inventiveness that Cuaron brought to the series, an impressive eye for visuals is evident from the opening sequence, set in a playing field as a strange storm approaches.

Narratively, the film trims down the lengthy, somewhat meandering novel into a relentless, lean, plot-driven race towards the final confrontation. While I have to disagree with the general opinion that the novel's numerous digressions and side-plots make it the weakest in the series (it is one of my favourites, for precisely those reasons), there's no denying that the changes are necessary and make a perfect fit for the cinematic medium.

Order of the Phoenix is the most political of Rowling's novels, and the film's screenplay emphasizes this subtext, making the film explicitly one about political intrigue, conspiracies and power-struggles, propaganda and media spin, and government interference in education. Yates has talked about this as his major fingerprint on the franchise, and while it is an important element in the development of the series, illustrating as it does Harry's growing awareness of the possibilities for the corruption of the establishment, the manipulation of the truth and the deception of appearances, it does seem to be slightly over-played in the film - twice is too much for the news headlines montage. As personified in the delightfully hateful figure of Dolores Umbridge (played note-perfectly by Imelda Staunton), however, these themes make for priceless boo-hiss material, especially for anyone who has ever grown up in a strict Church school.

The film builds inexorably towards a riveting final half-hour that is our first glimpse at the epic conflict that has always been just out of sight in the series, and Yates handles it superbly. This sequence is exciting, breath-taking, rousing, and ultimately tragic, as the scope of the battle grows increasingly higher, culminating in an astounding duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort that constitutes one of the series' cinematic highlights. At this points, the film's minor flaws - some sub-par CGI shots, occasionally rushed plotting - are forgiven, and the film becomes a more than worthy addition to the Potter canon, and one of the summer's best blockbusters.



4 comments:

Robert said...

On the whole I agree (and enjoyed! ) your review about the film but i had to say something about the novels ehehe

I think that Chamber of Secrets is the strongest book plot wise ( one main plot with a dozen layers all tied together through one movement - the fang in the diary) and judging from the seveth ( im halfway through now) id say that the second one is crucial to understanding what is going on.

magnum said...

I found Order of the Phoenix far too choppy - true, it's hard to adapt 700 pages' worth of meandering prose into 2 hours of film, but the movie seriously needed some flow; it all felt very episodic, with no connection between scenes.

Still, visually it was amazing, capturing Hogwarths to a tee. I loved the design elements in the props, be it newspapers, books or the signs with the Educational Decrees.

Daniel Vella said...

It did feel a little too rushed in places. Though I realize that it's a movie, and you can't fit everything into its running time, I don't see how an extra half-hour would have hurt, and it would have made for a much neater, more coherent whole. I was especially surprised to see how short the scene with Snape's memory is, especially considering how important it is for the remaining volumes. But it's been a general trend in the films that the memories and narratives of the previous generation, which are so important in the novels, have been completely sidelined.

And, in reply to Robert, I have to say Chamber of Secrets is the one that sticks in my head the least. However, after finishing the seventh novel (which is BRILLIANT, and ties up the storyline in a way that makes all the previous novels much better now the whole picture is clear), I've started rereading the series from the start, so my opinion might change...

Louise CG said...

I have to say I was quite disapointed about the story line of the latest Harry Potter film. this was admittedly the first time I watched a Harry potter film after reading the book and I thought that it would be a good thing... but it wasnt! I found that a lot was left out which should have been included, or at least, As daniel pointed out, some scenes, including the one with Snape should have been developed even more as they are so essential... but they didnt which made it a rather painful thing to watch. I have to admit though, the casting was again superb, the shots were beautifully done and the final visual shots came out better then i had ever imagined! But why sacrifice parts of the story in such a way just to make sure the film didnt go on for another half an hour! why are people so hassled about a 3 hour film!! isnt that the best part???? Its a pity that i have already read the next book (not the last one yet though) cause now I know I will have to go through the same painful experience all over again... so frustrating!